New Dunmow school approved but safety fears aired

Helena Romanes School and Sixth Form Centre. Picture: ARCHANT

Helena Romanes School and Sixth Form Centre. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

The new all-through school to replace the existing Helena Romanes School has been given unanimous approval by Essex County Council's development and regulation committee.

But safety fears were raised over the planned in/out T-junction, with one public speaker telling councillors that he fears some people will be injured or killed.

Great Dunmow Town Council mayor Mike Coleman

Mayor Mike Coleman - Credit: Great Dunmow Town Council

Speaking after the meeting, town mayor Mike Coleman told the Broadcast: "I'm extremely disappointed at the way the councillors ignored the concerns of Great Dunmow Town Council and the traffic situation."

Cllr Coleman was one of four speakers to voice concerns, while the headteacher told the committee the new school was "vital" for Dunmow.

The all-through school on land to the east of Buttleys Lane, Stortford Road in Great Dunmow will provide both primary and secondary education. The existing HRS site will be used for housing.

Great Dunmow Town Council mayor Mike Coleman told the meeting: "Whilst in support of the need for a new secondary school in Great Dunmow, the town council is very disappointed with this flawed plan.

"It would appear that a short term gain for primary school places has been balanced against permanent damage to the main access to our market town and its future prosperity.

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"Having been allocated land for a secondary school we now have the addition of a primary and all that entails, added to which an area that would be available for sports pitches has been deemed unsuitable. Therefore a quart into a pint pot comes to mind."

Cllr Coleman said Dunmow is expanding, with agreed and proposed housing of over 4,000 new homes. On the four largest approved developments there are 2,200 homes still to be built and two primary schools.

He said their transport consultant's assessment of the congestion and safety issues on the Stortford Road had been agreed by other experts. 

"The new school is evidently on the wrong side of Stortford Road, needing up to six pedestrian crossings to make it safe. The Stortford Road will be congested at about 170 percent capacity by 2030.

"Without a roundabout access there would be a long concrete barrier in the centre of the road and every school or sports journey will involve at least one U-turn at the next available roundabout.

"There will be long traffic queues and driving speeds could be reduced to 4mph at peak times."

Cllr Coleman added: “The school is putting its own viability as a priority over road safety and free flowing access to the town and we find this position completely unacceptable.

"We object in the strongest possible terms and we urge the committee to refuse this application.”

Tony Clarke, a Dunmow resident and retired builder and civil engineer, told the meeting he wanted to object not to the school but to this particular scheme because he believed the site access off the Stortford Road is potentially unsafe.

He warned that some people may be injured, and others may be killed because of the proposed T-junction.

"Dunmow (Town Council) has suggested omitting the T-junction in favour of a mini roundabout. I would heartily agree with that proposal."

Mr Clarke said that data on road traffic statistics and road accidents showed no deaths with mini roundabouts but there were deaths at T-junctions.

He added: "This T-junction is unsafe. If it is built, there will be notifiable accidents, people will be injured, people will be killed, some may be pupils at this school.

“This will haunt the school, and the town and its residents for the foreseeable future.”

Uttlesford District Councillor Colin Day asked the committee to take into consideration his formal objection to the project, with regard to the design of the access to and from the site.

Cllr Day said: "I hold the view that it is unsafe in terms of road safety at the junction but also the U-turning vehicles and the overall general traffic congestion that will accrue."

Cllr Day said he has lived in the area for 25 years and Great Dunmow and the cluster of villages it serves had seen major housing growth but without the necessary infrastructure or facilities being put into place including the B1256 which has not been upgraded to cope with the vast increase in traffic.

"The appraisal by Walker Engineering which was commissioned by Great Dunmow Town Council clearly sets out that this design for the entrance to the new school along the (B)1256 is unsafe.

"It points out the various hazards and the risks involved which will be faced."

Cllr Day said the addendum to the report from February 2021 spoke of the traffic survey and long queues of traffic predicted at junctions which in turn would lead to severe safety issues.

"It is worth noting that the queue of 24.7 passenger car units as predicted at the Bellway roundabout would be 142 metres long," Cllr Day said.

School headteacher Daniel Gee said the project was vital for Dunmow. Mr Gee said the existing school was not fit for purpose and they were wasting money year after year in patching a building that was "past its sell by date".

He said there was a pinch point need for more primary education places. The new school will provide more places.

"In terms of the vision, we want to provide a world class learning village with three key beneficiaries and they are students, the other young people of Great Dunmow and the wider Dunmow community.

"For our students, we want to provide state of the art facilities in terms of classrooms, practical areas, theatres and sporting facilities.

"Particularly for the primary students who will join the school we want to maintain all that is special about primary education but give them access to specialist teachers and specialist facilities they wouldn't normally get in a primary school.

"For the other young people of Great Dunmow, I work closely with the other primary heads and it's really important that this site is not just for Helena Romanes, it's for all of the primary schools of Great Dunmow, to give them access to the same opportunities.

"There's a much wider community remit and we have got bookable theatres, 4G sports pitches, sports halls and are already being inundated by community members asking how can they get involved, how they can book."

Mr Gee said they were disappointed by the town council's objections. He said the counter proposal of a roundabout would make the scheme unviable as there was not enough space on the site.

Essex County Councillor Susan Barker told the committee Dunmow wants and needs this school. 

Cllr Barker said there were areas to the rear of the land that were not considered suitable and asked why these were not considered suitable for car parking or for a separate access.

"This road, the B1256, it goes to Tesco's. Tesco's takes 72 percent of the retail shop in this area.

"Everybody from Takeley and Little Canfield, 3,000 houses to the left comes to shop.

"Everybody living in Dunmow uses this road to get out to the A120.

"It is not just the 2,000 houses that are being built, it is the whole of this area uses this road as a main road.

"I'm disappointed with the construction of the access. I do think we are designing in a problem. I'm disappointed with the pedestrian and cycle access."

Cllr Barker said there was no immediate access to the Flitch Way for the school.

"Chairman, I can only agree with the members from Dunmow. We ought to step back, take another look at this and see if we can come up with a better highways solution.

"I really do believe, chairman, that we are designing in a problem."

Responding on safety and congestion issues raised, Essex County Council senior transport planner Katherine Wilkinson said they were not concerned about the safety of the junction because of the work already done, and it would go through three further safety audits.

She said the nature of the road and capacity had been modelled and a comprehensive assessment had been carried out.

“There is a need to put crossings in there to get people and children safely across the road and that is why there are a number of crossings because we have looked at the area of Great Dunmow where people are coming from both now and in the future, and the nature of the road will change.

“The speed limit will go down to 30 mph. There will be crossings along the road and there will be foot ways, cycle ways either side of the road and there will be development on either side of the road."

Ms Wilkinson said it would not be the 50mph road that currently exists. Regarding delays, she said they would not tail back from one roundabout to another.

The meeting heard that the left in/left out T-junction was not like a standard T-junction and should be safer.

Cllr John Moran said he was pleased to hear the speed limit was going to change to 30mph but queried whether it would drop to 20mph for when pupils arrive and leave. He queried if there really was no space on the site. And he asked if the access could be controlled by traffic lights linked to the crossings.

The meeting heard they were approving the plan in front of them only. The roundabout design was put forward as a suggestion by the town council and had not been assessed by planning or highways. The applicant HRS and ECC education had not worked up a proposal to see if a fourth arm roundabout was deliverable. 

Cllr Moran was told there was no current plan for a 20mph limit but this could be looked at later. He was advised in terms of traffic light signals, they were looking at the application in front of them which they thought would work.

Councillors approved the application.

Councillors heard the school will have a travel plan and a pupil drop off area.